Poor Knights marine reserve the common fishes of the Poor Knights Islands by Dr J Floor Anthoni (2007)
The common fishes of the Poor Knights have
been arranged for easy lookup, by the kind of habitat where they are normally
found: pelagic and semi-pelagic, fishes in seaweeds, reef fish, little
fishes, fishes in caves, fishes found deep and those found on the sand.
Rather than arranging the various fish species of the Poor Knights along
traditional lines by their philogeny (kinship) and taxonomic groupings,
we will be using the above diagram and arrange them according to where
they are found. The diagram also shows how New Zealand's rocky shore is
zoned. More about this has been done in the chapter about the ecology
of the Poor Knights.
Located at the edge of the East Auckland Current, an offshoot of the
East Australian Current, one can encounter many 'stragglers' from warmer
subtropical waters. In the sixties and seventies (1950-1980?) the water
was warmer than today, and stragglers such as various groupers, wrasses,
demoiselles, goatfish and knifefish were much more common than today.
pelagic & semipelagic and
roaming The pelagic and semi-pelagic fishes have their own
chapter, which leaves some of the semi-pelagic roaming fishes here.
The roaming fishes do not have permanent territories. They migrate into
and out of the marine reserve. Snapper is at times territorial, roaming
f031803: kingfish (Seriola lalandi) school particularly
when young, but they also occur singly.
f040726: a porcupine fish (Allomycterus jaculiferus)
is always an endearing encounter. With some patience and care, it can be
handled and with a little prodding, it will inflate as shown.
f041629: blue moki (Latridopsis ciliaris) belongs
in colder waters, but will roam as far north as the Poor Knights. Here
is an old and large blue moki raiding a demoiselle's nest.
f048408: the butterfly perch (Caesioperca lepidoptera)
lives from plankton, and schools in small groups near its territorial sleeping
spot. At night its skin becomes very dark, eventually the dark side spot
can no longer be seen. This one is just dozing off at night.
f050036: the john dory (Zeus faber) is a voracious
predator, and although it may seem clumsy, is remarkably successful at
catching and swallowing fish as long as its own body, and much heavier.
weed fishes In this section you'll find not only the weed eaters but also others
that are normally associated with the weed zones.
f022327: the bluefish (Girella cyanea) is a stout
fish that can change its colours from black through blue to grey with orange
spots. It feeds on a variety of seaweed. Notice in the distance a grey
f041136: a young bluefish (Girella cyanea) is changing
from grey with orange spots to light blue. These fish can grow very old
and they are rather shy.
f007734: a group of large old silver drummer (Kyphosus
sydneyanus) passing nervously close by. They too can change colour
from black to almost white, and in between as shown or with vertical bands.
It is a coastal fish.
f017816: the parore (Girella tricuspidata) is a coastal
fish that feeds on fine algal growth on seaweeds. It too is a coastal fish
and not numerous at the Poor Knights.
f016906: the marblefish (Aplodactylus arctidens) is
a voracious weed eater who maintains patches of short-trimmed seaweeds,
which it defends against other grazers. It is often found in wild waters,
and is rather shy.
the notch-head marblefish (Aplodactylus etheridgii)
looks like the common marblefish but is much less common and does not occur
in coastal waters. It is found further north at the Kermadec Islands. Its
skin pattern is made up of perfectly round dots and it has a bump (notch)
on its head.
f051520: a female butterfish (Odax pullus) is yellow
green to brown in colour with a dark side band with white dashes.
f051515: a young male butterfish (Odax pullus) is
bluish with a light side band, and several of its fins are much longer
than those of the female. Eventually an old male looks very beautiful.
f052122: the kelpfish or hiwihiwi (Chironemus marmoratus)
is not a weed eater but is associated with the weed zones, especially where
rough water is found. Its colour is yellowish to dark green with square
f041715: the surgefish (Chironemus microlepis) looks
like an emaciated scruffy kelpfish but its five dark back patches are always
f020604: the black angelfish (Parma alboscapularis)
is a meticulous weed eater who also maintains patches of edible seaweeds
like sea lettuce, sea rimu and others. The white ear spot can be turned
on and off.
f049011: the banded wrasse (Notolabrus fucicola) is
not a weed eater but is usually found amongst seaweeds, also in the rough
bladderweed zone. The one shown here with 7 dorsal bands is an old fish
and can be either male or female. There is considerable variation in colour.
f031126: a cave scene at the Kermadec Islands shows some
of the fishes also encountered at the Poor Knights. From left to right:
yellow banded perch (Acanthistius cinctus), notch-head marblefish
etheridgii) in a rather red-brown colour, black-spot goatfish (Parupeneus
spilurus) and painted moki (Cheilodactylus ephippium) and another
reef fishes The fishes in this chapter are all territorial even though some may
have large territories.
f043309: the red scorpionfish or grandaddy hapuka (Scorpaena
cardinalis) is always patient to have its photo taken, a real treat
f042726: because of their camouflaging colours, one can easily
pass by a scorpionfish without noticing it, particularly when the diver
has no dive light.
f030934: the yellow-banded perch (Acanthistius cinctus)
is like the other groupers a straggler from warmer seas, but it is found
in diveable depths.
f031818: the gold-ribbon grouper (Aulacocephalus temmincki)
is black-blue with a truly golden back stripe on either side. But depending
on its mood, it can turn its golden ribbon off.
f031332: the spotted black grouper (Epinephelus daemelii)
can grow old and large, but around the Poor Knights it is now rarely seen.
The one shown here is a young female in business suit, which can change
to black, grey, white and brown.
f041717: the toadstool grouper (Trachypoma macracanthus)
is not common but encountered now and then. This small grouper or perch
normally has small white spots (like a toadstool has), which it can turn
off at will. In this photo it is seen sleeping.
f018211: the red-banded perch (Hypoplectrodes huntii)
is no longer as common as it used to be, but it has a wide geographical
spread, and is also found in colder waters.
f048109: the half-banded perch (Hypoplectrodes sp.)
has a green scalp and red-brown bands that reach only half way to its belly.
It used to be uncommon but is now frequently seen.
f051105: since all fishing stopped at the Poor Knights in
1998, large snapper as shown here have become much more common. Snapper
auratus) is a migratory fish and is found in the shallows at dawn and
dusk in summer.
f011917: the mado (Atyptichthys latus) is a darling
little fish that is a bit lost as far south as the Poor Knights. It is
usually found near rocks in deeper water, occasionally joining a local
school of pink maomao.
f045613: the red moki (Cheilodactylus spectabilis)
is predominantly a coastal fish but not uncommon at outer islands. It feeds
by sucking hard at coralline turfing alga, thereby dislodging hidden crustaceans.
f036616: occasionally one encounters the painted moki (Cheilodactylus
ephippium) from warmer waters. It has the same feeding habit as the
more common red moki.
f048212: the porae (Nemadactylus douglasii) is a loner
for most of the year although it congregates inside archways in spring.
It mainly feeds from sandy bottoms.
f020017: the male Sandagers wrasse (Coris sandageri)
is bold, colourful and inquisitive. It is an ambassador for the Poor Knights
and follows divers around.
f043220: female Sandagers wrasses are more of the working
class, seemingly oblivious to divers and always busy feeding or cleaning.
Shown here is a young female attending to the parasites of impatient two-spot
demoiselles. For the occasion, the demoiselles become soot-black with two
bright white spots.
f040636: the female green wrasse (Notolabrus inscriptus)
is a large wrasse, brownish with fine horizontal stripes and large belly
scales. This one is already changing into a male.
f020611: the male green wrasse (Notolabrus inscriptus)
is bluish-grey with inscribed scales and white dorsal and anal fins. It
patrols a large territory with 3-6 females inside. Lately the females have
become very rare.
f042923: a male elegant wrasse (Anampses elegans)
has a conspicuous yellow ear patch and is beautifully coloured. It can
change its colour quite rapidly but the ear patch remains.
f051233: I thought this was an orange wrasse but now have
f048529: a mature male orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus)
is deep brown-orange with white-black patches on top as shown. However,
it can change colour at night.
f048531: the female orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus)
can be yellow, green and orange, but always has the fine belly lines behind
her breast fins.
f048823: the spotty (Notolabrus celidotus) is a coastal
fish and is not common at outer islands. Females have conspicuous black
spot on their sides and yellow hip and anal fins.
f049122: the male spotty (Notolabrus celidotus) has
lost its side spot but attained a unique dorsal spot instead. It has also
lost the yellow colour in its hip and anal fins.
f010000: female pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus) was
once thought to be a different species. Compare it with the male on right.
f034701: male pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus) in spawning
colours, with eye stripes and a bright yellow patch.
f012614: the female scarlet wrasse (Pseudolabrus miles)
has stripes on her lower flanks, and in young females, the white is bright
yellow, as are the fins. This female is already changing into a male.
f030820: the male scarlet wrasse (Pseudolabrus miles)
no longer has stripes on its lower flank, and also its fins will eventually
f012612: the crimson cleanerfish (Suezichthys aylingi)
has become rare on the Poor Knights, but is very common around the Three
Kings Islands. This is a male. Females are orange and white.
f051128: leatherjackets (Parika scaber) stay in groups
when young, but later remain inside their territories, fought over by males.
This is a female, lacking the vertical band through the tail fin.
little fishes The little fishes such as blennies and triplefins all live in small
territories that they defend. New Zealand is blessed with many species,
which are often difficult to tell apart. The little fishes are literally
one-bite meals and therefore extremely susceptible to predation, needing
the shelter that the rocks and its vegetation provide.
The number of eggs these little fish can contribute to the large pool of
eggs in the sea, is very small, so they all have some degree of nest care
to enhance their chance of reproducing.
The coastal triplefins such as the common triplefin, the variable triplefin
and a host of others are not commonly found at the Poor Knights, perhaps
for similar reasons that crayfish are not common and have not returned,
even after 20 years of protection. The Poor Knights are simply too isolated
for their offspring to settle down on.
Because of their gaudy colours and many costumes, the little fishes
are a diver's delight, even though some are hard to find. They all change
colour when sleeping. Note that triplefins have three back fins whereas
blennies have only one. Gobies have two back fins.
f038217: the blue-eyed triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus)
has beautiful iridescent blue eyes and a white-red banded body.
f033515: blue-eyed triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus)
spawning male has lost its white-red bands and is three quarters orange.
f018317: the banded triplefin (Forsterygion malcolmi)
is also known as chocolate triplefin, resembling a bar of chocolate. It
often lives upside down on the ceilings of small caves.
f038133: the spectacled triplefin (Ruanoho whero)
is recognised by its dark eyes, connected by a dark band. However, it can
also become entirely black. It has many costumes.
f045536: the Yaldwyns triplefin (Notoclinops yaldwyni)
is usually pale brown but always has pairs of dots on its side. Spawning
males become entirely orange with greenish heads. The one shown here has
an unusual mottled costume.
f048119: the yellow-black triplefin (Forsterygion flavonigrum)
changes colour dramatically when spawning. Males become all yellow with
f034527: the scalyhead triplefin (Karalepis stewarti)
is nocturnal and can have many costumes but always a banding pattern. It
is very tapered with a large head and usually sits on the rock facing down.
f034513: the cryptic triplefin (Cryptichthys jojettae)
is difficult to find because of its secretive behaviour and camouflage.
It is often found where water rushes over very shallow boulders. Males
and females differ in colour and they have various costumes as well.
f048115: the blue-dot triplefin (Notoclinops caerulepunctus)
is the smallest at 35mm, and is therefore hard to find. It has also become
less common but has a wide geographical spread.
f048535: schooling triplefin (Obliquichthys maryannae)
also called oblique-swimming-triplefins, swim in the open but close to
the reef, while catching zooplankton. Because they do not have swim bladders,
they need to swim incessantly.
f038222: the crested blenny (Parablennius lacticlavius)
is a true slimefish. It is very shy and fast and hides inside holes in
the rock from where it cleans parasites from fish. It can grow old.
the mimic blenny (Plagiotremus tapeinosoma) or
sabre-tooth blenny is a straggler from subtropical waters. It is often
seen in pairs, in open water close to the shore, swimming in bursts. At
the Kermadecs it is a thorough nuisance to larger fish as it attacks them
for a bite of skin, but here it is often seen cleaning parasites from fish
like demoiselles. This fish has become rare in recent times.
cave dwellers The fishes hiding in caves by day, often come out at night. They are
the night shift. Moray eels belong to this
group but they have their own chapter.
f038425: the golden snapper (Centroberyx affinis)
is related to the roughies. It is usually found in deep waters, but also
in some caves and archways.
f041430: the slender roughy (Optivus elongatus) is
a very quiet fish but capable of rapid sprints to intercept prey. It lives
often in mixed company with bigeyes.
f048419: a young bigeye (Pempheris adspersis). When
very young, bigeyes assemble in small schools that are out in the open
by day. The little ones are yellow in colour and not yet shy of light,
but this changes in their first year.
f034827: mature bigeyes in The Labyrinth, show their typical
hideout: a narrow crack, close to a strategic place where plankton floats
f017014: a rock cod (Lotella rhacinus) is a very shy
nocturnal predator, by day found hiding in deep cracks. It is a nightmare
deep fishes Some fishes prefer to live in deep water.
f034419: the copper moki (Latridopsis forsteri) is
usually found in deep water but some pay a visit to the shallows and can
be found at diveable depths inside archways. This fish is often found mixed
with blue moki, and is more common in the south.
f038724: the Lord Howe coralfish (Amphichaetodon howensis)
seen in its typical habitat of the deep reef. Although it is a straggler
from subtropical waters, bonded pairs are reasonably common at the Poor
f006124: giant boarfish (Paristiopterus labiosus)
are usually found deeper than 25m. They are big fish that pair up for life.
When young (above), they have very long dorsal spines that shrink with
age. Here a group of four giant boarfish are seen hang-gliding on their
large hip fins. A tarakihi (Nemadactylus macropterus) has sought
f045410: the long-finned boarfish (Zanclistius elevatus)
is a very elegant fish.
f036503: the splendid perch (Callanthias australis)
is found in deep water (40m), always near its deep hideout. It is one of
the most spectacularly coloured fishes in NZ. The females (above) are pale
by comparison. These plankton-feeding fish are often found mixed with pink
bottom dwellers The sandy bottom habitat is always interesting, also because there
is precious little of it at the Poor Knights. This chapter looks at the
fishes who are usually found there, overlooking the fact that it is also
a preferred habitat for wrasses of all kind.
f018610: a goatfish (Upeneichthys lineatus) sleeping
at night. Goatfish have two long barbels with which they can stir the sand
and taste prey there. So they can also hunt by night. However, they prefer
to sleep in safe places. This fish has many costumes.
f020617: goatfish usually do not live long, but some do,
like this 20 year old one. Notice how it has changed shape and colour.
Mature goatfish are colour masters extraordinaire, and can change completely
while you watch.
f025326: a comb fish (Coris picta) cleaning a group
of mature goatfish, while young goatfish are at the end of the waiting
queue. Notice how the one being attended to has become white, spreading
all its fins, while opening its mouth wide.
f024506: the sharp-nosed puffer (Canthigaster callisterna)
or clown toado is one of the cutest fish of the Knights. Smaller than the
width of a hand, it is always inquisitive, because it is protected by a
poisonous gland inside. Males like this one have a bright white side stripe.
f025036: the red lizardfish (Synodus doaki) is a fast
predator sitting on deep sand as shown here. It has a surprisingly large
mouth with sharp teeth. It is not a fixed resident of the Poor Knights
and arrives in some summers. The lavender lizardfish (Synodus similis)
has a purplish back and is bit shorter.